COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coach Thad Matta has at least one Big Ten colleague in his corner.
Following the Buckeyes’ 72-67 win over Michigan State, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo offered a passionate defense of Matta. The Ohio State head coach, now in his 13th season, came under fire after an 0-4 start in Big Ten play. It was the first time the Buckeyes lost their first four conference games since the 1997-98 season.
“I don’t care what the hell the people in Columbus say,” Izzo said. “It’s a good team. They’ve played the toughest schedule in the league as far as three road games and Purdue at home. They should have beat Purdue if they make a free throw. (They went to) two tough places to play in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They were going through their issues. We’re all going through them.”
Izzo has been at Michigan State since 1995, so he’s seen firsthand Ohio State’s rise under Matta followed by the decline of the last few seasons. The Buckeyes made the Elite Eight in 2013. However, they lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014, the second round in 2015 and didn’t make it last year.
This year, the Buckeyes dropped some close non-conference games to ranked teams. Additionally, forward Keita Bates-Diop was recently ruled out for the season because of a stress fracture. Izzo thinks the reaction from Ohio State fans has been overblown, even after a blowout loss to Wisconsin that embarrassed the program.
“I felt for him a little bit because of the schedule,” Izzo said. “How many people are going to Minnesota and Wisconsin and winning? Illinois was a dogfight game. Who the hell is going to Virginia and winning? They had that one won. They don’t have the depth they’ve had. He did a better job than I did.
“If they’re complaining here, they should really be complaining in East Lansing.”